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Your Guide to Michigan Education Reform Proposals

Find out what the bills entail, where they are in the legislative process, the pros and cons, and when an informational meeting will be held in Rochester.

State House and Senate committees on Wednesday will consider portions of a proposed education reform package.

The bills' timing coincides with the waning terms of "lame duck" lawmakers who have only a few weeks left to serve and little to lose by potentially pushing through parts of the controversial legislation that would transform education in Michigan.

Supporters argue underperforming schools and achievement gaps necessitate the reforms, which they say would make students more competitive when they enter college or the work force. But opponents say the measures are moving too quickly, do not provide proper regulations for new schools and would strip communities of control over their local districts and instead put the power in the hands of corporations and the state.

To help readers make sense of the proposals, Patch has put together a tutorial on the education reform package.

What's on the table

(See the attached PDFs to review the full bills.)

House bill 6004 and Senate bill 1358: The bills require a survey of all public school buildings and empower the state Educational Achievement Authority to make decisions about how to use vacant buildings currently under the control of local school districts. On Wednesday, the House Education Committee will consider bill 6004 and the Senate Education Committee will discuss bill 1358.

House bill 5923: The bill would issue special designations for single-gender, online and "globally competitive" schools, the latter of which could recruit students from anywhere in the world. International students would pay tuition to attend Michigan public schools. The bill also lets employers sponsor public schools. It is awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee.

Michigan Public Education Finance Act: Gov. Rick Snyder commissioned the draft measure that was created by the Oxford Foundation, an educational think tank. The 302-page proposal would replace the School Aid Act of 1979, which determines how public schools are funded. The draft measure allows students to choose which district they attend; permits per-pupil funding splits so students can attend more than one district; expands online learning; provides $2,500 per semester to students who graduate early, up to $10,000; and converts the school year to an all-year configuration. It is available to review at oxfordfoundationmi.com. The draft bill is expected to be introduced as part of Snyder's budget presentation in February, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Pros and cons

“I think it will potentially drive real change for better learning. So, in that respect, if you believe schools are not doing a very good job today and you believe they do a better job afterward, then yes, it could be disruptive for some people’s careers. People spent as much time analyzing the reforms as they spend with rhetoric." – Lansing attorney Richard McLellan who drafted the Michigan Public Education Finance Act on mlive.com

"These bills set the stage for a complete corporate takeover of our public schools, and the Michigan Public Education Finance Act represents the 'final nail in the coffin' and death of Michigan's public school system. In a nutshell: Our public schools will not be public anymore. They will be controlled by Wall Street." – Rep. Ellen Lipton

Learn more

A series of informational meetings has been schedule throughout Oakland County to help answer questions about the proposals. On Monday, two forums are planned in Rochester: at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at Rochester High School.

Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland Schools, will speak at both meetings.

At a similar community forum in Royal Oak this week, Markavitch called the bills “radical and dangerous."

In an email letter to Rochester Community Schools parents, Rochester Superintendent Tresa Zumsteg encouraged the public to attend one of the forums.

"We know there is room for improvement, particularly in areas of high poverty and low student achievement, but we are convinced that this country cannot flourish without a free and accessible education for all children," Zumsteg wrote. 

What do you think? Will these bills promote "real change for better learning" or be the "final nail in the coffin" for public education in Michigan? 

Mike Reno November 28, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Thank you for offering a balanced perspective on this. With the exception of Zumsteg's quote -- which is needlessly alarmist -- the article attempts to inform. Well done. This is an important topic, and we need to have an adult conversation about it. Those opposed are approaching hysteria... and that is going to solve nothing. McLellan has said he does not believe this should be passed in the lame duck session. We have time to talk rationally about this.
Barb Anness December 04, 2012 at 02:34 AM
At the rate our law makers are working in this lame duck session to pass these bias, non transparent and discriminatory bills for education they're clearly not concerned about rational discussion. Why the rush? If these bills offered fair choices for ALL kids in MI then I'd agree with you, they need to be rationally discussed and not passed in haste. But that's not what's happening.

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